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Christie’s American Art Sale

May 20, 2022

On May 17th, Christie’s presented their American Art sale featuring 20th-century paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. There were some surprising results, both good and bad, but overall, I am sure Christie’s is more than a little disappointed with how the sale went.

colorful landscape painting with river and mountains

Thomas Hart Benton Fisherman’s Camp, Buffalo River

The top spot went to a 1968 work by Thomas Hart Benton titled Fishermen’s Camp, Buffalo River. It was estimated to bring $700K – $1M; bidding opened at just $480K and squeaked past the estimate when it hammered at $1.1M ($1.38Mw/p). Coming in a close second was Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abstraction from 1917. It was estimated to make $1M – $1.5M and fell slightly short when it sold for $900K($1.134M w/p). In a distant third was a sculpture by Elie Nadelman titled Resting Stag, which managed to sell at the low end of the estimate of $500-700K ($630 w/p). Interestingly, the sculpture last sold in 2015 at Christie’s for basically for the same amount – $629K (w/p).

Georgia O'Keeffe abstract painting with blue , green, beige

Georgia O’Keeffe Abstraction

A major disappointment came with the lot in fourth place, another work by Georgia O’Keeffe titled Abiquiu Trees VII. It had an estimate of $700K – $1M, and it fell far below when it sold for just $400K ($504K w/p). A painting by Newell Convers Wyeth titled Christmas Tree – Chadds Ford rounded out the top five. It was estimated to bring $400- 600K and barely missed its mark when the hammer came down at $380K. ($478K w/p).

Four lots did not have reserves, and only one managed to beat the estimate; the others had weak results. A portrait by John Sloan of Gertrude S. Drick “Woe” was estimated to go for $30K – $50K. After the auctioneer dropped the opening bid from $10K to $3.5K, it enticed some bidding, eventually selling for $7K ($8,820 w/p). A portrait by Robert Henri titled Sandy had an aggressive estimate of $80K – $120K and didn’t come close. Again, the auctioneer had to lure bidders by dropping the opening bid from $40K to $10K, sparking a bit of interest, as the work sold for $18K ($22.7K w/p). The Red Robe by Newell Convers Wyeth failed to hit its $30K – $50K estimate but wasn’t a complete failure since it garnered $18K ($22.7K w/p).

man wearing a white collared shirt and red and blue striped tie

Robert Kauffmann
Arrow Collar Advertisement

And the last unreserved lot did do very well based on the estimate. It also took the longest time to sell. It was a work by Robert Kauffmann titled Arrow Collar Advertisement. The estimate was a mere $2K – $3K, and the bidding began at just $1K. Slow and steady, the bidding climbed and eventually sold for $12K ($15.1K w/p) – four times the high estimate and statistically the best performing lot in the sale.

Christie’s suffered a blow when several of the lots with the highest estimates didn’t sell. Among the unsold lots were works by Arthur Dove, Thomas Hart Benton, Norman Rockwell, Childe Hassam, Frank Weston Benson, and Frederick Carl Frieseke. Had all these lots sold at their low estimate, the sale would have come close to hitting its mark.

When the sale concluded, of the 81 works offered, 63 sold (77.7% sell-through rate), and the total hammer price was $7.51M ($9.45M w/p). The presale estimate range was $15.9 – $22M, so they fell way short, even with the buyer’s premium. Of the sold works, 33 fell below, 10 within, and 20 above their presale estimate range, giving them an accuracy rate of just 12.3 %. Once again, this shows you that an estimate is no more than a guesstimate.